For purposes of government grants and funding eligibility, a Native American is an individual who has a certain percentage of Indian blood and is a member of a federally-recognized tribe. There are currently about 550 recognized tribes in the United States, and the criteria for determining who is or is not a candidate for membership rests with each individual tribe.
In addition to grants specifically earmarked for them, Native Americans are usually eligible for government grants targeted toward minorities.
The Indian Trust, formally known as the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians and administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, consists of millions of acres of surface and subsurface mineral estates. While individual Native Americans own approximately 11 millions acres, about 44 million acres are held in trust for tribes. As of the time of publication, there were 397,000 "Individual Indian Money" accounts and 3,300 tribal accounts for approximately 250 tribes. For 2014, the income from various sources totaled $1.16 billion for individual accounts and $761 million for tribal accounts. These sources include:
- land sales
- use permits
- financial asset income -- all income is invested in securities backed by the U.S. government.
While some are receiving a tremendous amount of money annually, the reality is that over 125,000 of the individual accounts have balances totaling less than $15. The OST had over 63,000 accounts without up-to-date addresses, known as "Whereabouts Unknown" accounts. The combined value of all those unknown addressees totals more than $115 million.
The federal government offers numerous grants for eligible Native Americans for various purposes. These include:
- U.S. Department of Commerce grants through its Native American Affairs division. Tribe and members may qualify for these business grants, which include funding for infrastructure, economic development and job training.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grants for environmental clean-up and training.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture grants designed for small businesses in agriculturally-related fields.
- U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs grants for education, with applications going through the individual tribe.
States offer grants specifically for Native Americans. These may include educational grants, such as:
- The Wisconsin Indian Grant program for undergraduates and graduate students in the state who are recognized tribal members
- New York's Aid to Native Americans educational grant
- The University of Maine system's Native American waiver and room and board grant program
Native American students should check with their state's Department of Education for information on available education grants and scholarships.